The news reached London the day before Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on the 2nd of June 1953 – that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had achieved the amazing feat of reaching the pinnacle of the highest point of the world; Mount Everest. Throughout her reign, Elizabeth II has navigated her own spectacular path, and in doing so helped redefine the role and position of the monarchy.
Winds of Change
Much has changed in the UK and the world since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. She has been witness to some of the most historically significant events and has outlasted many trends and movements. During this time, 14 Prime Ministers have entered and left No. 10 Downing Street and 14 American Presidents have made the White House their home.
From the ‘twisting and shouting’ of The Beatles to the introduction and retirement of the Concorde, and from the UK joining the European Union to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Elizabeth II has seen a world evolve around her. Britain has of course changed a lot. When she became Queen, the British Empire – although at its decline – still stretched from Asia to Africa and to the Americas. It was a mono-ethnic nation with multi-ethnic colonies, territories and dependencies. Today, the Empire is gone and the UK has become increasingly diverse in population.
The One Constant
No matter how much things have changed, Elizabeth II has remained that one constant through it all. She has been the UK’s most visible and recognisable figure, and her state visits to foreign countries have garnered tremendous good will for her country. Indeed, the very existence of the monarchy – with all its pomp and tradition – has been a more than useful lure for tourism.
One should not forget that aside from the UK, Queen Elizabeth II is also the constitutional monarch of 16 countries (known as the Commonwealth Realms) including Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and Australia. She holds these positions independent of her duties as the British monarch. Add to that her role as the titular Head of the Anglican Church and the Head of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations, and it is easy to see why she is still considered a world figure.
Monarch and Matriarch
In the finest traditions of the constitutional monarch, Elizabeth II is famously reticent about her personal views. No doubt she shares them with the British Prime Minister, whom she meets for two hours every week. That meeting though is held in the strictest confidence. As a unifier, she takes care not to express anything that may divide her people.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that behind the pomp and circumstance, there is a woman on whose head the crown rests, and aside from being the Queen of millions, she is also a wife and a mother. Her marriage to the late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh lasted for more than 70 years, and he along with their four children have assisted her in performing royal duties.
Royal Family Affair
The most visible is of course Charles the Prince of Wales, who is not only the heir apparent to the throne, but also a keen environmentalist. The others have also made their mark in their own way. Anne – the Princess Royal – competed in equestrian sports at the 1984 Olympics, Andrew – the Duke of York – flew in combat missions during the Falklands War, and Edward – the Earl of Essex – has been involved in theatre and television productions.
Perhaps the biggest change which Elizabeth II has overseen in her reign is how the Royal Family has become seemingly more approachable and more in-tune with the people. Elizabeth II has long made in-roads to connect with her subjects. Long before she was Queen, the then Princess Elizabeth was an ambulance worker during the Blitz of London in World War 2. More recently, she became the first British monarch to pay taxes and in line with the sprit of austerity, has even gone as far as to ‘recycle’ her outfits. The public have so far approved of her ‘credit crunch couture’.
Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest reigning monarch. On her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, a four-day whirlwind tour began on the 2nd with the Queen attending the Epsom Races, and then leading a 1,000 strong flotilla along the Thames River the next day. The BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace took place on Monday the 4th − featuring Sir Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Tom Jones − and concluded on the 5th with a service of Thanksgiving. It was truly a diamond-like occasion for a gem-like Queen. And this year marks the 69th anniversary of her accession to the throne.